How to account for Evan?

TIME recently published a beautifully told story by Jessi Hempel, about the highs and lows of her brother’s successful pregnancy. It’s both moving and straightforward—a husband and wife want a child. The husband gets pregnant and a baby is born. The husband becomes a father, the wife a mother.

Give it a read, and then come back because I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A few from me to start the discussion:

1. I’m not sure how or if our current family doctrine can account for situations like Evan’s. But as this story becomes more common (as Hempel’s research says it will), we’ll need to adapt. Evan is a human, and a child of God, and any system that is true and holy and universal must account for him, along with his child and spouse. The worth of their souls is just as great as any other soul.

2. I haven’t read Taylor Petrey’s essay yet, but Caroline Kline’s “yearn(ing) for a theology that is broad and expansive enough to include all people, gay and straight” is shared by me. Again, I consider that theology necessary for Mormonism to be what it claims (and what I believe it) to be.

3. I think the family doctrine as taught by Joseph Smith could probably account for Evan. I’m not a Joseph Smith history expert, but a few of you are; I hope you’ll chime in to let me know if you agree or disagree.

4. I believe doctrine is defined by the edges of the bell curve, not the middle. The difficult edge cases, not the easy stuff. I think Mormonism has the tools to handle edge cases with grace, beauty, inclusion, and love.

Interested in your (respectful, civil) comments.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I didn’t understand “her brother’s successful pregnancy” when I read the OP, so I assumed the piece was some sort of a thought experiment. It frankly had never occurred to me that a transman might have a baby; I guess I assumed the hormone treatment would interfere with that or something. Quite fascinating. (I’m afraid I have no answers to your theological questions.)

  2. Brother Sky says:

    Hi Kyle. Thanks for the intriguing post and for the link to the story. Unfortunately, although I believe that Christ’s love and His gospel have the potential to adapt to this situation, I believe the Mormon church has neither the ability nor the desire to accommodate such people/cases. I completely agree with your comments in number 1 about Evan being a child of God, etc. But I don’t think that cuts any ice with the Mormon Church. IMHO, and not to be a downer going into a holiday weekend, it’s pretty clear (at least to me) that bigotry and marginalization is a part of Mormon history, doctrine and practice. Sorry.

  3. I’m a Mormon convert with a transgender parent who transitioned after giving birth, so it’s a slightly different story. My parents conceived me together and then after the birth, one parent transitioned to male. I appreciate you bringing this article to everyone’s attention and am looking forward to reading their responses. I don’t think our theology allows for situations like Evan’s or my parents’, but there is no doubt that Evan and both of my parents are children of God with souls of worth. How they fit in is tough and somethings that has caused my activity within the church to wane over time. I don’t have a coherent idea of the theology behind how it will work, but am looking forward to the usually thoughtful replies you get here at BCC. While I am not sure LDS theology can accomodate their situation, I believe that there is room for us to expand into it, perhaps outside the current LDS church, but still within (approximate) Mormon thought.

    Needless to say, the way I deal with it in practice is that I don’t spend any time on family history or temple work. Too painful to think about the consequences and how the church would view my family. I don’t go to church on mother’s day or father’s day. And when I’m teaching in YW, I try to be as all encompassing as I can and just avoid teaching topics that some may find controversial. My family situation and thoughts are known in our ward, but typically not discussed unless I am asked directly.

  4. The church and this comment thread are stronger for having you in them, Megan. Thanks for sharing something so personal.

  5. Yes, Megan, what Kyle said–thanks.

  6. I learned in college that numbers in the bible were more poetry than the concrete, exact expression of fact. The professor said that it was part of Jewish tradition to use numbers to express poetic notions. The number seven was an expression of completeness and perfection and so when the earth was created in seven days, what that seven really meant was that the process of creation was complete, and perfect, and whole and took just as long as was necessary to accomplish that perfection.

    I never fact checked my professor, but the older I am the more I realize that numbers are not exact the way a child who loves the either or choice of black and white, or right or wrong, or male or female wants them to be.

    So when I read D&C 131:1-4 “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees…” I see that three as poetry. It’s a symbolic three. It means there is enough of the most glorious parts of heaven for everyone. The married people and the single people get all the attention. I suppose Brother Joe had to start somewhere. If he were here with us now, I don’t doubt that he’d spend a lot more time talking about how there was room at that second stop for gay couples, trans parents like Evan, nontraditional families, all of the loved and cherished LGBT children of God and their dear ones.

    And I refuse to assign a gold, silver, or bronze medal to the symbolic three degrees. I see them as a collection–we have A, B, and C. We have three delightful stops on our bus trip today. We have an abundance of unique brothers and sisters and we are the better for it.

  7. I guess I am in the minority (at least so far on this thread) that read that TIme article and thought it was anything but beautiful.

    Christ’s love is certainly for everyone, but does that mean that we can indulge our desires and with the help of modern technology re-make ourselves in some new, self-determined image. Surely, I am out of step with the times, because I don’t think this is God’s plan.

  8. I’m grateful for Megan’s comment. It’s important to see this article not as a thought experiment for “what if this was someone in our church,” but, “because there are currently people in our church who can empathize with this article, what will we do and what does that mean?”

  9. I’ve seen various responses to this article in TIME say that Mormon theology can’t address this. I prefer to think that we don’t currently understand our theology well enough to understand how it does address it. As you said, Kyle, I believe it is big enough to include everyone. Where it’s not clear how that works are places for us to be at work in study, in faithfulness, and in love.

    I don’t have a good response, but I, for one, like thinking about how the roles and callings of Christ as a man overlap with some of the roles and callings traditionally assigned to women, such as birthing, nursing, bleeding, and even a role of submitting. (A note on that last one: If you know me, you know that submitting in the shrinking violet way isn’t really my thing.) I value our teachings on Heavenly Mother as well, but even so, I don’t want her to replace or render irrelevant these traditionally feminine characteristics of the Savior. I don’t know what all of that means for Evan’s story, but it does seem that the opportunity/ability to sympathize with the roles of others puts us in a good position to sympathize and love them.

  10. “does that mean that we can indulge our desires and with the help of modern technology re-make ourselves in some new, self-determined image.”

    I don’t know, ABM. I’ve assumed the pull to switch genders transcends “desire” in most cases, since it can be such a painful upheaval.

    Probably one of those questions that’s impossible for an outsider to answer.

  11. I think the gospel can account for all and have a beautiful place for everyone. I think the church is slow to get there because we are human beings and our attitudes and prejudices color all we do. Yes, I see the two as different things and recognize that not everyone does, but I do.

    Years ago I was in a leadership position in a ward. A couple started attending and was open in their story that they were going to marry in the temple and then the husband was going to undergo a sex change procedure. At the time gay marriage wasn’t legal and, of course, a temple marriage after his change wouldn’t have been possible either. The Bishop had no idea what to do with this information so he called the Presiding Bishop of the Church. The direction given was pretty darn harsh and did nothing but shove that couple out the door with a loud slam. I was sure then and continue to be positive now, that the direction given was a knee jerk reaction to the situation and wasn’t given long thought and prayer. That is how we work most times it seems.

    Certainly we can hope and pray that on this and many other troublesome issues we’ll change. That like men holding the priesthood, after enough time and sorrow that the hearts of the leaders will soften enough that instead of following some old policy that they’ll seek and finally learn what the Lord really wants and it will be better than what we have now. I just wish we weren’t so glacially slow.

  12. I remember talking to a friend whose partner was transitioning from female to male about our theology of eternal identity and gender from the Proclamation. Her response to me was enlightening. She said – “It makes so much sense, my partner’s spirit is male but was born into a body that genetically became female. Now I get it.” Since the creation of life is full of all kinds of inconsistencies and chance that I doubt the Lord controls directly (hair color, eye color, genetic mutations, etc…) why couldn’t one of those factors that are left alone to the natural order of biology be gender development. In that case, there would be rare, but occasional, cases where the spirit that enters a body is a different gender than the eventually developed body.

  13. I think that Evan is a child of God. As are Evan’s child and partner. I also think Evans family is not any different than two lesbians having a child through IVF. And I think the Church would see it the same way.

    Therefore, however a gay family is included in Mormon theology, Evan’s family would be included the same way.

    I’m sorry if I don’t see this as a new conversation.

  14. We account for Evan the same way we account for the elephant-rhinoceros hybrid found in Africa.

  15. The leper, declared unclean and cast out from among the Jews, and ostracized by the religious, was healed by the rebel, Jesus. He not only healed the leper, but he did it by touching him, something that went against all social and religious traditions; something that the man declared was not supposed to be done. This is a beautiful example of the stakes that men and religions hammer hard into the ground, confining to a very small area what they believe God can/cannot or will/won’t do. I’m not convinced we currently understand enough about eternity to make judgements about the what fits and what doesn’t. My current view of eternal progression, sealings, adoptions, mortalities, families and love is not as restrictive as the current narrative.

  16. Kyle M.

    I freely admit I don’t know either… but for me it still comes down to desire. We can desire and endure all sorts of painful things. That very human tendency would not limited to transgender situations.

    It is certainly possible that God has something unique to say here. But it seems more likely that you are waiting for something that won’t come.

    I am genuinely curious, what do you mean when you say that you think the church needs a broader and more inclusive theology to be what it claims?

  17. At the risk of over-answering your question, ABM…

    I believe the Gospel of Christ is the means by which all of God’s children come together, experiencing maximum joy and fulfilling their potential. I know enough people who have found that joy in loving same-gender relationships that I simply reject our current doctrine. Similarly, while I have very limited experience interacting with transgender people/issues, the couple that I’ve known personally are intelligent, mature, “with it” individuals who endured a lot of pain and confusion before making a change that to them felt right and brought them peace.

    The evidence I see in my life is that we’re wrong on this, as we’ve been wrong about issues of inclusion/exclusion before. I’m not angry about it, and I don’t think the church or its members should have been expected to keep up with what turned out to be a VERY fast shift in social acceptance.

    That said, until our community of saints can get past our biases and make room for all people who are trying to live loving, peaceful, joyful lives, we are not fulfilling our own potential.

  18. Amy, I love that point about degrees of glory being a symbolic number. We take things very literally in our church, and I think it leaves us with problems (like this one) when we narrowly define categories.

    As far as the article goes, my first reaction at seeing it pop up in my news feed (besides not enjoying the picture – it doesn’t look like any new mother portrait I’ve ever seen) is dismissiveness: of course someone (well, someone fertile) with a female reproductive system can bear children. And if that solves the problem for one family, that’s great, but there are many ways to invite children and become parents.

    After reading your comment, Megan, I wondered how I would feel if I already knew this couple, if they were Mormon and seeking comfort — or even just wanting to share their joy.

    I would like to think I’d always assumed God loves them as much as anyone, but I can’t deny that my heart has been softened, so now I’m not sure how much of that was a cover for my discomfort at these narratives challenging my assumptions. If I’m sure God loves them, does that excuse me from loving them? In a very concrete way?

    I am still learning and growing, and I thank those of you who have taught me today.

  19. Ben Hoffman says:

    I believe this topic extends beyond the topic of “the LDS Church”, though certainly not exclusive to it. This discussion is rooted in the conflict between absolute truth vs relativism.

    I would suggest the LDS Church adheres to what they deem “absolute truths” and dismiss relativism. However, they do believe in others “worship[ping] [or not] how, where or what they may”, as long as it does not interfere with their ability to do likewise.

    That said, I don’t foresee any major deviations from what they’ve communicated about LGTB individuals’ rights vs their rights to LDS ordinances. I think they’ve indicated that this is not the same policy as the race issue decades ago. This is a core doctrinal issue tied to what has been communicated in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”.

    I am not an official representative or spokesperson for the LDS Church. Nor do I know everything or much about anything. These are my thoughts based on what I know and understand on topic.

  20. Kyle M,

    Thanks, you didn’t over answer.

  21. Kyle, isn’t there a lot of beautiful and redeeming qualities to a lot of lifestyles the church rejects? I’ve known men who swore they developed a great sense of brotherhood with each other going out drinking on the weekends. I know heteronormative couples who live together unmarried and claim to love each other but reject marriage. I’ve read of strip-club dancers who felt their experience liberated them to live much more fulfilling lives. I’ve read of children who’ve grown up in communal settings without a traditional mother and father but who claim theirs were richer lives for all their uncles and aunties. There are women who feel the value of their lives was preserved only because they had an abortion. Every single one of these people would claim their lives were improved by choices of their own or others that contradict the commandments of God, as taught by the church. They’re clearly children of God. They seem to be happy and fulfilled. Therefore… what? What metric are you going to use to decide whether God concurs?

    I want people to feel happy and fulfilled, but it doesn’t make sense to me to project the messiness of mortality into the eternities. I’m more interested in projecting the eternities into mortality. When it comes to gender dysphoria, why are we so sure it’s the body that’s wrong and not the brain? I don’t think we are. We just don’t know how to fix the brain, so we mutilate the body (as with breast implants, etc.) I don’t feel I’m a bigot because I see a bearded lady and her lesbian partner have a baby. I’m not trying to attack them, but I don’t feel that I have an obligation to change my theology to normalize their mortal messiness. We all deal with mortal messiness that doesn’t match the ideal.

    I honestly am not attacking anyone, but I struggle with this. I’ll accept whatever God ordains, and I want people to be happy. I want them in church. But I want my doctrine from God. At least to the extent He’ll give it.

  22. By the way, I feel I should clarify that when I said we all deal with mortal messiness, it was not to compare the magnitude of the messiness or to diminish what gay or transgender people experience. I just feel like almost everybody has something in their lives or families that when matched up against the church’s ideal, causes pain. I’m just not convinced that changing the church’s ideal is proper way to deal with that.

  23. “Isn’t there a lot of beautiful and redeeming qualities to a lot of lifestyles the church rejects? … They seem to be happy and fulfilled. Therefore… what? What metric are you going to use to decide whether God concurs?”

    That’s the issue. If we accept their happiness as genuine (as I think we must), we then need to either:
    A) revise our belief that God is the source of all joy and love and beauty
    B) work to broaden our understanding of what God finds acceptable
    C) at least withhold our own judgement until we know more

    We’re on shaky ground if we attempt A (the scriptures are consistent on that, right?). Whereas I think the scriptures explicitly tell us to do some combination of B and C.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph, Martin. And I think we’re meant to struggle with this.

  24. Kyle M, “joy,” “love,” and “beauty” are subjective terms; their definitions vary widely. So it can certainly be consistent with scripture to disagree with your assertion that “God is the source of all joy and love and beauty” in all contexts.

    You seem to assume that we can measure the value of our choices by the amount of joy or happiness we feel. But again, these are subjective terms that are used to represent very different things. And are positive feelings always the best way to measure one’s choices? I’ve known quite a few people who’ve made poor decisions (such as cheating on their spouses) and hurt a lot of people because they were primarily pursuing happiness. Conversely, I’ve known people who have experienced a great deal of sorrow and grief, but their lives were rich with meaning and purpose. Christ Himself was described not as a man of happiness but “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Perhaps there is a better way to evaluate our choices in mortality.

  25. Theologically – a child of God was confused about their true identity as a daughter of God based on a combination of biological variation or anomaly and worldly cultural hegemony.

    So they thought they were a man when their body told them otherwise. They conceived, proving this reality and their child will be born to imperfect parents (both physically and mentally) like all of us; but only in this case my peers will freak out and label my words as hate speech. It shouldn’t be a newsflash that we all.need the Savior, that sin is real and that people sinning as well as the victims of sin (this parent seems to be both) not only desperately need the atonement, but that the those who need it often deny the reasons for needing it in the first place.

    The child and parent will one day grow to see the tragic mistakes and the parent will weep for redemption from the blood and sins of this generation as they acknowledge that God’s plan was always clear, but they put more trust in the arm of flesh than in God. Latter-day saints who acquiesced and went along with the mob will weep all the same.

    We ought to love one another, as you would no doubt point out, but first love God and not leave the commandments and the prophetic teaching on the family undone in the process.

    This truth, which will be labeled hurtful (when no hurt is truly done) is less offensive than when the reverse is attempted to be forced upon good hearted latter-day saints to the violation of our religious beliefs and conscience. Confusion over God, Heavenly Parents, the plan of salvation, marriage, and children will not bring the happiness we all seek, no matter how many saints are sanctioned or have their speech chilled by a growing oppressive cultural dialogue.

    In the end, you can trust God, his servants and the Holy Ghost which will speak truth that testifies of these things, or rely on what you think is entirely your conscience scientific consensusbut, is really a mixture of misguided individuals reasoning according to the philosophies of men in a fallen world. It’s not clear why some latter-day saints give so much weight to the former. But there have always been those willing to preach tempting but misguided ‘truths’.

  26. So…a woman had a baby. How is that hard to fit into LDS theology? I guess that’s flippant, but this story mostly just seems to undermine the idea of transgenderedness. You can dress how you want, take drugs, and whatever else and it won’t change your chromosomes. You can damage your reproductive organs through surgery or drug (ab)use, but that isn’t going to change the fact that you had them and aren’t going to have the other kind. People with genetic chromosomal abnormalities don’t change the basic story that humans come in two standard sexes for a very specific reason. Wouldn’t it be better to strive for a world in which people can accept the body they have and be accepted as they are? Liking pink and dresses doesn’t make a boy a girl any more than a woman being hairy and having small breasts makes her a man. Men can be nurturing and women can be violent, beer-guzzling rodeo riders. No new theology or human categories necessary.

  27. “You seem to assume that we can measure the value of our choices by the amount of joy or happiness we feel.”

    I’d say “joy and peace,” Rivkah, but yes. Obviously yes.

    That’s not a good-hearted comment, GSO. I wouldn’t label it hate-speech, just not-at-all-charitable speech.

  28. It’s taken me all day and a whole slew of comments to figure out what you-all are talking about. On reading the TIME article and Kyle M’s prompt, my thought process was like this:
    Guy comes to me saying “I’ve got one of those 4-sigma bodies that’s capable (with minimal intervention) of having a baby. What do you think?” [4-sigma for a man; maybe 1-sigma for a woman]
    My first response is “if you’ve got the equipment and the desire, go for it!”
    But then I wonder about the OP and what’s the issue, and take a second thought:
    “How’s your partner/husband/wife about this? I think two parents fully engaged is important for the child’s long-term welfare.”
    “All that progesterone can’t be with zero consequences. And childbirth is a significant event. Have you counted the health consequences to you?”
    “What about the health of the baby? Can I assume you have reasonably good prospects for a healthy baby?”
    “Are you going to raise her in the LDS church? That might not be a completely welcoming place for awhile longer for your family. I’d still go for it, but you might want to count the cost.”

    And by the way, this is a man we’re talking about. Some of the comments seem to be privileging chromosomes over person. Where did that come from?

  29. I think that at the core, we have some very candid comments from people that probably reflect where LDS theology is going to be.

    The gendered nature of LDS theology is centered around childbearing. Gender roles in LDS theology are centered around childbearing. That is why it’s so clearcut for some of the commenters that Evan is a woman — because to them, the proof is in the pregnancy.

    I used to feel optimistic that LDS theology could handle the divide between sex and gender. (Or, as Gilgamesh said, that we could say gender is eternal, but sometimes embodied sex can get swapped up), but I think that LDS theology of gender is so thoroughly embodied that it currently probably isn’t going to recognize a split between gender and sex as being credible. I think that that’s probably going to be true of most groups with traditional sexual ethics.

  30. I just don’t understand what gender is supposed to mean anymore. The idea of gender nonconformity requires such a rigid binary system of gender in order for people not to conform to said system. I fail to see how manipulating one’s biology is a better solution than ignoring or challenging the rigidity of social notions about who can do what. This just seems like giving in to the same monstrous element of society that drives women to bind their feet in high heels and mutilate their breasts to make them larger.

  31. “Some of the comments seem to be privileging chromosomes over person.”

    We are what we are. No one is not their chromosomes. “Person” includes all the parts, even the ones we aren’t pleased with. I wish I were taller and built muscle more easily. I could fix the latter with steroids, but that would damage me in other ways and disqualify me from many sporting activities. It doesn’t fit with modern medical ethics. Instead I accept who and what I am and do my best with what I’ve got. My children with physical disabilities have undergone surgery to improve their basic abilities to function in human society as currently constituted. Why is someone with a perfectly healthy body they don’t like the sex of more like my disabled children than the doping athlete? Why don’t they just need therapy to learn to accept themselves as they are?

  32. “And by the way, this is a man we’re talking about. Some of the comments seem to be privileging chromosomes over person. Where did that come from?”

    Interesting question, considering he just had a baby. The progressive view is that there is no essential difference between the sexes except for the plumbing, and I think the plumbing was clearly demonstrated. He wants to be recognized as a man, but what’s left to make a man? The beard?

  33. Kyle M., evaluating our actions solely by our feelings isn’t “obviously” the best standard. But OK, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

  34. We Mormons haven’t yet arrived at a settled and stable understanding of homosexuality, but at least we are moving on it, however fitfully. I think the comments here make clear that we haven’t even begun to understand the realities and conundrums of transgender issues. The sure sign of that is commenters who think that there is nothing really to see here—no theological problems and no practical problems for Mormons. Just another instance of “mortal messiness,” in the words of one. The commenters don’t feel personally affected by these questions at all.

    I can sympathize. For decades I have tried to work through my understanding of homosexuality, but I’ve been perplexed by transgender people. Then I met some transgender people, and the haze of my ignorance started to lift. I’m still perplexed about a lot of things in the trans experience, but at least now I understand that this is a real thing in the lives of good people. It’s not a sick contrivance or a freak-show perversity. Dealing with gender identity has life-and-death consequences for many individuals and families.

    As a people, we Mormons just don’t understand trans issues well enough to make theological judgments about them. The biggest mistake we can make is to assume that we know what God’s position is on these matters. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m certain that it’s a lot more complicated than you think.

    So please, let’s withhold our speculation about what Mormon “theology” should be. We don’t know that. What we do know is what the gospel requires of us: to love others without judgment and to help them feel Christ’s unbounded love. We will find the answers we need only when we do that.

  35. Loursat, your comment is perfect. Thank you.

    I have many touch points with homosexuality that have helped me realize how complex and personal it is. I do see more members having these touch points as well. It strengthens me when people are able to admit their first inclinations were wrong, as that has been my experience the past 10 years. I suppose touch points with transgender would do the same for most of us. I will be greatful for those future experiences.

    But in the meantime, while I wait for understanding, I can love. And if Evan identifies as a man, that is good enough for me. I see no need to deny him this. I wish his family all the best.

  36. One of the things I find difficult about situations like Evan’s is that I really do believe in The Family: A Proclamation to the World. I believe that the roles we are assigned do have eternal significance, that they’re not arbitrarily given. I believe that the Savior loves us all, and that the way he feels when we struggle is far beyond our comprehension. I think we should refrain from judging the situation of another, as to whether it’s right or wrong- since that is an intensely personal struggle that some people experience and we are in no way qualified to judge someone else because we can’t know what they are experiencing. My worry is that we cannot know unequivocally what part these decisions and feelings that are experienced in our mortal life will have when this life is over. If the gender we have been given at birth is not the one we chose to leave this life with, but if our soul is in part, defined by our gender, I can’t fathom the issues that could arise, or the ramifications that their actions may have. Perhaps I take things too literally, and am too conventional in my thinking, but I really do feel that our gender is intregral to who we are beyond our physical bodies. I wish that people didn’t have to experience the struggles with gender that seem to be more and more prevalent in our world today, and my heart aches for the hatred and cruelty which so often seems to follow people who have to deal with questions of gender. I’m not sure that the Church can enact policies of inclusion to show Christlike love for our brothers and sisters who are struggling with issues of gender and sexual attraction while remaining true to the tenants of the gospel, as they are today. I do think however, that the Church leadership would love to find a way to do so and are pained by the disconnect that exists.

  37. “Notice that [in the Time essay] the adjective “surreal” is used to describe people who don’t believe biological women should be compelled to share the restroom with biological men. Surreal is not the word used to describe a man (“man”) suckling the baby that passed through his vagina (see the photo accompanying the essay). 

    The photo of the bearded man-woman nursing “his” baby, and that image appearing in a celebratory context in Time magazine, is about as powerful an icon of the spiritual and moral state of 21st century America as you could imagine.

    There is no more tender scene in the world than a mother nursing her baby. What we see in Time magazine is a symbol of a society and a culture that is so far gone into decadence that it will defile what is most sacred in the human experience. It will use technology to transgress all natural boundaries to impose man’s will — and will call that freedom, will call it progress, and will punish anyone who dissents. And it will teach its children that there is no such thing as man, no such thing as woman. It destroys in the hearts and minds of the people the icon of fatherhood, of motherhood, of the family — and it intends to do this!”

    Thus Rod Dreher in his blog.

    I agree with Anonymous. This is not hard to fit into almost any theology. A person with a vagina, uterus, and breasts that lactate (until recently almost all religions would have no trouble using the term woman here) had a baby with a sperm donation from someone outside the marriage. The only thing new is that we are asked to use new words. Confucius believed that social disorder can come from failure to call things by their proper names, i.e. names that comport with reality.

  38. Aussie Mormon says:

    Loursat: “As a people, we Mormons just don’t understand trans issues well enough to make theological judgments about them….So please, let’s withhold our speculation about what Mormon “theology” should be.”

    Considering we’ve recently had a series of posts on BCC speculating, theorising, and discussing the genderness and relationship of deities in LDS doctrine, why is it ok to discuss to speculate on the theology of that, but not this.
    If exaltation results in godhood, then surely that conversation is the same as this one, but at a different stage of progression.

  39. christiankimball says:

    I am genuinely surprised and puzzled at some people’s insistence on genotype absolutely dictating gender.
    In a real world human interaction my approach is to take people at their word (on gender and a lot of other things) and try to love them where they stand. In a theological discussion I argue for fluid, expansive, inclusive concepts (on the record, under my name). But in talking about Mormon theology, with such a strong focus on gender and family, I expect(ed) the predominant view to be that we have an inherent gender, from the pre-existence, that our essential self is gendered, and that bodies in this terrestrial sphere are most often consistent but observe that all kinds of variations happen in small numbers, I fully expect(ed) that the default Mormon view would be that Evan is a man (a male spirit, if you will) with an unusual body. I understand (I don’t like the way it’s done presently, but I understand) that the Church, with an impenetrable wall between men and women over priesthood, has an issue of discernment and will default to genotype where it’s easy and to “not priesthood” where it’s difficult. But that’s practice, not theory.

  40. A Fellow Traveler Through Life says:

    A sincere question, especially for those who believe genetics dictate gender: If a person is born with a vagina and external female genatalia and is raised as a girl but who is genetically XY, what is their gender? How is it determined? Is it the gender they have been raised for 16-18 years and they believe themselves to be or are their chromosomes their destiny?

    XY females are very real and more common than you might think. Externally they look female and tend to be beautiful. Their docs checked “female” on their birth certificates when they were born without hesitation or question. They grew up playing with dolls and planning elaborate weddings, just like all the other little girls around them. The first indication anything is amiss is when they fail to menstruate or go through puberty. It can be caused by a number of different things such as their cells failing to respond to testosterone in utero or exposure to endocrine disrupters. As more and more endocrine disrupters accumulate in the environment, this is likely to become more common.

    So, what is their Eternal gender? What they “know” they are or what their chromosomes dictate?

    They have to work with an endocrinologist for the rest of their life, to precipitate puberty and maintain a proper hormone balance. Should they be forced to change their clothes, hair, manner, and birth certificate and take testosterone so as to conform with their genetic sex (male)? Or should they be allowed to choose the gender and live the life (and hormone treatments) that aligns with the women they know they are? Who should decide?

    And what do they need to tell their Bishops when asked if they are living in accordance with current gospel principles and doctrine? Especially if they chose to continue on as women?

    Of course, this only applies to Mormons who wish to be and remain in good standing in the Church. As many commenters made clear, those outside the church will do as they see fit and as they think is best, going about their incredibly sinful ways regardless of what the True Gospel Of Jesus Christ teaches is right and how much it causes God to sorrow over their wickedness.

    (OK, I did let a bit of my opinion slip in there.)

    Or could it be that a person deciding their gender (and whether they are living their genetic sex or the one they know is theirs) is a matter between them and the Lord and He will decide and judge them for how they exercised their Free Agency when the time comes. As to the rest of it (surgery, hormones, etc.): None of anyone else’s business. If they are Church members, the question should be: are they living the commandments and doing their best to live a Christ-centered life; their best to follow gospel principles? Unless you can say you follow every single gospel principle exactly with no exceptions, how are your “failings” any different than theirs? Except maybe theirs is more visible, less easily hidden from view.

    I might suggest that until you have taken the time to become good enough friends with several trans people so they are comfortable talking with you at length about their journey, you don’t have enough background to decide if their quests to make their exteriors match who they know they are is the frivolous artifact of a wicked world or as necessary to their survival as repairing a seriously deforming birth defect.

  41. Aussie Mormon, the only rational way to deal with a question like this is to learn about it first. We don’t understand transgender people, but we could. All we have to do is spend the time. That means knowing and loving the actual people who are the subjects of the discussion. (Reading books and blogs is not enough.) It’s foolish to speculate about it otherwise.

  42. never again says:

    “Some tried to reshape the key they had been given to resemble the other key. Perhaps, they thought, it would then fit both locks. And so it was that the safe was closed to them. Their reshaped keys were useless, and their inheritance was lost.”

  43. A Fellow Traveler Through Life says:

    I should have added to my post: I ever impressed by those commenters who understand that gender isn’t always as easy as male/female–genetics is destiny and extend your love and understanding, even if you might not fully understand. You understand that many things in life are not so easy as righteous Mormons vs sinful everyone else. I am always pleasantly surprised at just how many of you I find in the posts and comments; it’s not been my experience at church.

    Please continue in your quests to emulate the Savior by befriending those that the church seems to be so willing to throw away; the marginalized, the outcasts, the “apostate.” You give me hope that things maybe might get better…..

  44. Deborah Christensen says:

    @ ChristianKimball “I am genuinely surprised and puzzled at some people’s insistence on genotype absolutely dictating gender”. For me I use to believe in only two ridged genders. This was based on biology classes in high school. We learned about Mendel and the beans. It wasn’t until advanced genetics classes that I learned about how disorganized real life genetics plays out. When I talk with people at church who some would say are homophobic, they bring up Mendelian genetics. They honestly believe they are using science to back their opinion up. At least that is one reason why people don’t believe in more than two ridged genders.

  45. @A Fellow Traveler Through Life, I don’t have a set in stone opinion on the matter, but as one who probably falls in the camp you describe I’ll give it a quick shot.

    My immediate impulse is that if a person is XX and born with regular female sexual development or XY born with regular male sexual development, then I would need more compelling reasons than I have yet come across to believe that they are anything other female or male respectively, despite preference, hormone therapy, or other surgeries that may occur later in life.

    In cases of being born with irregular sexual development (i.e. XY with female external genitalia, etc.), or having a different chromosome makeup than the standard two options, there seems far more room for error, and I can see many situations for transgender, hormone, or other surgical options in these cases.

    And this is where I am less firm in my opinion – but it seems to me that outside of these “non-standard” situations, changing genders in opposition to biological sex is then reduced to mere preference/choice, and flies in the face of the theology of gendered spirits that is currently accepted. (Or maybe I’m uninformed – do transgender individuals in these circumstances claim something other than choice/strong preference? i.e. that there is a categorical biochemical difference that compels them to be the other gender?)

    @christiankimball, Which also incidentally is the same reason I am genuinely surprised you would think most mormons would view Evan as inherently male. If there is no chromosome complication, or sexual development complication, is God’s plan really so messy that in these standard situations with some degree of frequency spirits are being sent into bodies with a sex opposite their spirit gender? Again I am not totally firm in my opinion, but that feels like a stretch to me.

  46. christiankimball says:

    @Steve S: What I think “God’s plan” means is probably so different from your usage that we are talking in different time zones, but for me, yes, God’s plan is that messy, and more. All of the chromosomal variations, all of the sexual orientation varieties, all six to ten million estimated species of insects, every variation of snowflake crystal, is all God’s plan. It is messy. And it is wonderful.

  47. Steve S

    I know your question is posed to christankimball but yes my experience is that God’s plan is extremely messy. I see examples of that messiness daily. And not just with respect to sexuality. Our bodies are flawed in innumerable ways, and that’s not even to speak of the messiness we inflict on one another.

  48. Perhaps messy was a bad word. Maybe “arbitrary” is better. I understand at the edges things get messy, I think we’re in agreement there, in my view the messiness is what allows and allowed the “standard” or regular occurrences to emerge and is therefore a necessary part of the plan – both in what it offers the whole and what good it offers all of us with our various flaws. Yet even still, it seems a stretch in my mind that God would be so arbitrary in then sending already gendered spirits into bodies of a particular dedicated sex, after a billion years of sexual evolution to create bodies in the image of God, male and female.

  49. Lisa C Goddard says:

    If I were both Mormon and transgender, this whole thread would alternately encourage and terrify me.

  50. Steve S wrote, “It seems a stretch in my mind that God would be so arbitrary in then sending already gendered spirits into bodies of a particular dedicated sex, after a billion years of sexual evolution to create bodies in the image of God, male and female.”

    The wonders of God’s creation stretch our minds continually. The world contains so much more than we imagine. That is good! That is beautiful! Let’s not fear what we don’t understand. Most of all, let us not rush to condemn any of God’s children. We have the gift of intelligence. We have the promise of revelation and the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Let’s call on that promise, not cut it off. What wonderful opportunities we have to learn, to love, and to serve!

  51. While Mormon theology may not be able to embrace this and other situations, I am a mormon, and my theology can love and respect many differences and find a place for all children of God.

  52. K8 the Ally says:

    With all of the innumerable ways people’s bodies are *significantly* imperfect upon birth, I would expect more people to accept that a male spirit might be born into a female body (and vice versa), chromosomes and all. And I don’t understand what is “sinful” about correcting such a condition. I’ve heard the arguments and am still baffled that people can’t see gender dysphoria and the various conditions along the trans/intersex/etc. spectrum as real and legitimate. How does one think one knows what anyone else’s “eternal gender” is? What is the “eternal gender” of someone born intersex (with some combination of both sexes’ reproductive parts)? How in the world could anyone think they know what someone’s gender is better than the individual (them)self? The inability to empathize and the demonization of circumstances such as Evan’s that I’m seeing in these comments gives me little hope for Mormonism making room for such brothers and sisters in the foreseeable future. It’s very disheartening, especially at a place like BCC.

  53. My experience in seeing how members of the church deal with transgender people has been mostly encouraging. I admit that my experience is limited. But most LDS people I have seen are tolerant and kind after they get over the initial uncertainty of dealing with something they’ve never personally encountered. A discussion thread like this one tends to overrepresent harsh attitudes, because people feel that they have been invited to speculate and make judgments, even though they don’t understand what they’re talking about.

    We ought to be encouraging kindness, love, and personal involvement with transgender people. That’s all we need right now. Trying to figure out first where transgender people fit in our Mormon theology is the purest example of putting the cart before the horse.

  54. As others have mentioned, there is no need for anything new in Mormonism to account for this scenario. This is a female same-sex couple where one of the two women has chosen to cosmetically alter her body to appear to be a man. We already have beliefs about same-sex sexuality. We already have beliefs about same-sex marriage. We already have beliefs about sex changes. No new approach is necessary.

    It’s interesting how many in this thread have brought up the religious belief in gender-mismatched souls. It’s interesting because, while that is a valid religious belief, it is a religious belief not of Mormonism, but of Progressivism. Many who frequent BCC have split religious allegiance between their Mormonism and their Progressivism, and I know of no better example of this than gender identity. You are placing preference in your blind faith in gender-mismatched souls over the physical, observable, provable secular reality of biological sex.

    There is, of course, nothing wrong with blind faith, and Mormonism demands plenty of it. But in this scenario, it’s not Mormonism asking for your blind faith over secular reasoning. It’s Progressivism that is demanding it of you.

  55. A Felow Traveler through Life says:

    @Steve S–You sound like a very reasonable person. I have great respect for people who are willing to listen before they make up their mind.

    >>And this is where I am less firm in my opinion – but it seems to me that outside of these “non-standard” situations, changing genders in opposition to biological sex is then reduced to mere preference/choice, and flies in the face of the theology of gendered spirits that is currently accepted. (Or maybe I’m uninformed – do transgender individuals in these circumstances claim something other than choice/strong preference? i.e. that there is a categorical biochemical difference that compels them to be the other gender?)<<

    When talking with various trans people I've known, they 'choose' their gender identity as much as they chose their height, eye color, or shoe size. While you may decide the shoe size that comes naturally is 3 sizes too big and only wear shoes 3 sizes too small, they will never fit, will always be painful, and will cripple you if you keep wearing them that way for years.

    Or to borrow the words of a lovely trans friend of mine: "I have put more time, energy, money, hassle, and heartache into becoming and being a woman than any 'natural born' woman alive." Or as another friend said, "Why would I _choose_ to be part of a persecuted and hated minority that all too many people think it's completely acceptable to beat to death just because I exist. Who on Earth would choose that? If it was just a matter of deciding to be [trans], I would decide to be like everybody else."

    It's not a choice or a preference; it's who they are.

    And to bring the conversation back to the OP, just because he knows he's male, doesn't preclude his wanting to be a parent who is a nurturing caregiver or even the primary caregiver. Knowing how to care for and raise a child isn't inborn as part of the X chromosome only available to women. To be blunt, a mother isn't defined by just having and using a functional uterus and breasts and a father defined by his contribution 9 months before the child is born. I really can't see the difference between a father chest feeding or bottle feeding his child save one has proven health benefits to the child. Unfortunately, seeing fathers bottle feeding their babies is a pretty unusual sight in church. But both are just Daddy feeding his darling baby.

    Thank you @Steve S (and all the rest) for approaching this topic with an open heart, really trying to understand people and ideas you are unfamiliar with. @Loursat got it in one–the only way to have an informed opinion is to invest the time to get to know some transgendered people.

  56. CSC–the point is exactly that biological sex is *not* always “observable” or “provable.”

  57. First, thanks for the comments, everyone.

    CSC: a binary, eternal gender doctrine feels more abstract to me than the lived experiences of people I know, which is as physical, observable, and provable as anything else. Categorizing one position or the other as “blind faith” would seem to come down to personal experience.

    That’s one of the things that really interests me about this article. If instances like Evan’s really ARE on the rise as the article says, at some point we’ll start to experience the “propinquity effect” that we’re already starting to experience with homosexuality—it’s an abomination until you make a gay friend or a loved one comes out, and at that point you have a very real, not-blind-faith choice to make.

  58. Maybe we are asking the wrong questions.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/opinion/sunday/what-religion-would-jesus-belong-to.html
    “What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion?” McLaren asks in “The Great Spiritual Migration.” “Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?”

    That would be a migration away from religious bureaucracy and back to the moral vision of the founder, and it would be an enormous challenge. But religion can and does migrate.

  59. I think this is a fascinating question. We see examples where bodies don’t form correctly in the womb (missing limbs, congenital defects, etc.) We typically support efforts to correct those issues (artificial limbs, etc.)

    Could it be the case that, sometimes, a female spirit’s body mistakenly develops as a male? If so, shouldn’t we support efforts to correct that, as well?

    I honestly have no idea what the right answer to that is or if that’s even a fair comparison. I know that gender is a critical part of our Spirit and is eternal, despite efforts to erase the importance of gender today. I also know our bodies are imperfect and mistakes can be made in development.

    It’s a tough, but fascinating and important, question.

  60. The post is a tale which on supports the current trend of redesigning normalcy. A transgender man who feels his biological clock ticking and wants a baby.

    But what is the suicide rate for individuals altering their hormones and the structures of their reproductive organs? It is extraordinarily high. The last study I saw reported numbers 5-10x those of homosexual individuals. It is so high in fact that ICU and emergency room nurses I know often note in bewilderment the repeated suicide attempts of individuals in the transgender community. Transgender life is tough, transitioning is a living nightmare, and it often goes downhill from there. Mental illness is heart-breakingly high. Medical personnel admit that they are dealing with issues and elements they do not understand. Yet some here fearlessly wade in, declaring church policies and teachings erroneous with a wave of their hands. Is it too late to suggest a little humility in the face of this trend? Is it even remotely possible that current reasoning may have led these people down an erroneous path to resolve the conflicts within their minds? Did we stop for a moment and even think of the consequences of a child carried in the womb of a transitioning person?

  61. Arizonag,
    Many would note that the teachings of the Founder of Christianity and the teachings of Mormonism are completely out of tune with what you describe. Would there be room in such a spiritual movement to call people to repentance from sin? Does sin even exist? Did Christ suffer for the sins of the penitent? Does God save people in their sins? Can religious leaders experience revelation and warn adherents away from a sinful lifestyle?

  62. Old Man, the study you are referring to has been largely discredited along with the man behind it, Dr. Paul McHugh. McHugh’s stances on LGBT issues are even stricter than the church’s (he claims “homosexuality is a choice” for example. He also “opposes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standard diagnostic tool in psychiatry [and] he disregards Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a valid medical condition.” (see https://skeptoid.com/blog/2015/02/18/bruce-jenner-paul-mchugh-and-science-denialism/)

    Another article on McHugh: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/23/the-right-s-favorite-anti-lgbt-doctor-strikes-again.html